Daisy Ridley leaps from Star Wars to plain awe making Murder on the Orient Express with a line-up of acting legends
Director Kenneth Branagh made the British actor audition for her role in the film remake of the 1974 murder mystery classic. Having at first felt intimidated by the all-star cast, she soon grew to enjoy her second major movie role
Kenneth Branagh had a brilliant twist for a pivotal Murder on the Orient Express scene in which Daisy Ridley, as beautiful Mary Debenham, confronts obnoxious fellow passenger Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe).
The director thought space age for the moment with Star Wars breakout Ridley on the opulent 1930s train. “I said to Daisy that she could certainly pull out a light sabre and toast him where it hurts,” Branagh recalls.
Ridley, 25, says she was too nervous to truly appreciate that humour early in the remake of the 1974 mystery movie based on Agatha Christie’s beloved crime novel. Murder on the Orient Express, which opens in the US on Friday, was only Ridley’s second major movie role after exploding to universal fame in her film debut – as Rey in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
That confrontation was Ridley’s first scene in front of an acting ensemble that included Branagh (as Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot), Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi as fellow Orient Express passengers (and murder suspects).
“I honestly had no room for jokes in my mind that day. I was so freaking nervous,” says Ridley. “My hands were fully shaking, I thought, ‘I cannot do this in scene with everyone around.’”
Not to worry; Branagh knew Ridley could handle it. To ensure that Ridley had the force beyond Star Wars, he had asked her to audition for the part in person.
The actress only found out much later that fellow stars like Leslie Odom Jnr (who sent an audition tape) and Josh Gad (“Josh was like, ‘I knew I could handle it’”) had bypassed that vetting. But Ridley understood.
“I mean, obviously, I had done only one thing. I had to prove myself to be part of anything like this. So I was very happy to [audition],” says Ridley. “I know I’m a real newbie.”
She navigated the audition the way Rey handled the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens. “She had this intelligence and a twinkle in her eye,” says Branagh.
Ridley became an integral part of the famous train crew, hanging with Dench (“I made a video for her grandson,” in character as Rey) and playing along as Gad grills her for Star Wars spoilers in a series of videos he shot and shared during filming.
In between scenes, she listened to the drama legends swap stories. “I had nothing to offer. I was just a lucky girl who got a lucky break,” says Ridley, modestly. “I mainly kept still.”
Experience won’t be an issue again as Ridley picks up her light sabre for real in her third major film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This time she’ll be acting alongside the original Jedi, Mark Hamill, after Rey finds Luke Skywalker.
Ridley has also completed the title role in the drama Ophelia (expected in 2018) and zipped back to Montreal after last week’s Orient Express premiere in London to resume work on the dystopian drama Chaos Walking (2019).
“I’ve realised that I’m really tired, I haven’t stopped working,” she says. “Now I’m genuinely excited to sleep before flying around the world talking Star Wars.”